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MGMA: Physician Compensation Rebounding Above Pre-Pandemic Levels

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   May 27, 2022

Compensation for most physician specialties saw modest increases between 2019 and 2021, according to new MGMA data.

It appears that medical practices are rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic, with most physician specialties reporting compensation levels that are the same or in excess of pre-pandemic levels, according to new data from MGMA.

The first year of the pandemic took a heavy financial toll on physician practices and physician compensation. An American Medical Association survey conducted from mid-July through August of 2020 found a 32% average drop in revenue at physician practices.

The 2022 MGMA Provider Compensation and Production report has data from more than 192,000 providers at more than 7,700 healthcare organizations. The report, which focuses on 2021, features several key data points.

  • Nonsurgical specialist physicians experienced the biggest percentage decline in median total compensation from 2019 to 2020. These physicians experienced a 3.12% increase in median total compensation in 2021, and a 1.79% increase over the 2019 compensation level.
     
  • Surgical specialist physicians experienced the second biggest percentage decline in median total compensation from 2019 to 2020. These physicians experienced nearly a 4% increase from 2020 to 2021, with median total compensation reaching $517,501.
     
  • In 2021, primary care physicians experienced compensation gains slightly below figures in 2020, with median total compensation reaching $286,525.
     
  • Work RVUs reflect clinician productivity while taking into account visit complexity. From 2020 to 2021, the average percentage increase in median wRVUs for all provider types was 14.3%. Advanced practice providers experienced the largest percentage gain at 16.58%.
     
  • The Top 3 specialties that posted total compensation gains from 2019 to 2021 were ophthalmology at 6.97%, general orthopedic surgery at 6.88%, and family medicine without obstetrics at 5.60%.
     
  • The Bottom 3 specialties that posted weak total compensation changes from 2019 to 2021 were neurological surgery at -0.23%, diagnostic radiology at -0.14%, and emergency medicine at 0.78%.

Interpreting the data

The 2021 data bodes well for 2022, Michelle Mattingly, senior manager of data solutions at MGMA, told HealthLeaders. "With the compensation and work RVU data from 2021 being at or greater than levels in 2019, there is a very strong case that the pandemic is less of a cause for concern as we look forward to 2022."

Physician productivity appears to have returned to pre-pandemic levels, she said.

"The work RVU growth in 2021 is reflective of the decrease in 2020 due to the pandemic. Work RVU volumes dropped by more than 10% in 2020. The volume in 2021 is in line with pre-pandemic levels. Surgical and nonsurgical specialty physician productivity is reported about the same as it was before the pandemic. Primary care physicians report a slight increase (1.16%) in productivity compared to 2019."

Regarding patient volume, MGMA examined data for total encounters, which reflect the number of direct provider-to-patient interactions regardless of setting, including telehealth visits. This data shows that the pandemic is still having a negative impact on physician practices, Mattingly said.

"Total encounters increased between 2020 and 2021, signaling that patients are more comfortable being seen than they were in the height of the pandemic. However, the total encounters data is still down from pre-pandemic levels in 2019. For example, primary care physicians had 2.69% more encounters in 2021 than 2020; however, the 2021 level was still 7.73% less than what it was in 2019. Likewise for surgical specialty physicians: encounters were 5.89% more in 2021 than 2020; however, the 2021 level was still 4.85% less than what it was in 2019," she said.

Compensation for most physician specialties saw modest increases between 2019 and 2021, according to the MGMA data. Mattingly said setting expectations for 2022 and beyond is difficult because there are several factors that could affect a practice's productivity and have a downstream effect on physician compensation. Three of those factors are as follows:

  • Short staffing: Many practices are struggling to maintain necessary staffing levels. Without the right number of staff, practices may not be able to handle higher patient volumes.
     
  • Inflation: As the cost of goods and services increases, some patients may struggle to keep up financially and put off care.
     
  • Physician Well-Being: Burnout was problematic before the pandemic, and there are indications that the pandemic may have added fuel to the fire. Without enough providers in the workforce, it may be difficult to keep up with the demand.

Related: Doximity Report: Physician Compensation Growth Not Keeping Pace With Inflation

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Nonsurgical specialist physicians experienced a 3.12% increase in median total compensation in 2021, and a 1.79% increase over the 2019 compensation level.

Work RVUs reflect clinician productivity while taking into account visit complexity. From 2020 to 2021, the average percentage increase in median wRVUs for all provider types was 14.3%.

The Top 3 specialties that posted total compensation gains from 2019 to 2021 were ophthalmology at 6.97%, general orthopedic surgery at 6.88%, and family medicine without obstetrics at 5.60%.


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